In Reformed churches people sing a lot, and what strikes outsiders is that they bring their own songbooks to the service. That many mothers have a stack of them to take to church every Sunday can be blamed on Calvin. God must be given praise, and those who know him do nothing more readily. God's Word demands a response, and singing is one means of response, preferably using God's own hymnbook, the Psalms. Calvin appealed to Augustine, who also thought there were no better songs than the psalms of David. For Calvin there was an existential element in them as well, because he saw many parallels between his own life and that of David. In the same way, he saw similar kinds of parallels between the Protestants in France and the Israelites in Egypt, the church militant and Israel in the desert, and scattered Protestants and Jews in the Diaspora. Such parallels were just too evident and suggestive not to invite comparisons and connections, and so the Psalms were understood with clear reference to the circumstances in which Calvin and the members of his congregation found themselves. The Psalms became songs for a pilgrim church, for believers who knew heaven to be their home country and were at home nowhere on earth. The Reformed became so attached to this collection that they sang from it in prosperity and adversity, while sailing the seas, fighting on battlefields, and while waiting on their deathbeds.
Behind this high view of singing there was a fear of at least two problems. The first was the problem of the silent congregation. As the Reformers saw it, Rome had muzzled the congregation. The priest sang in incomprehensible Latin, and if there was a choir, it took responsibility for what the congregation should actually do. Thus, ...